Bilingual is Better

3 Common Myths of Bilingualism Debunked by a Speech Therapist

The following is a guest post by bilingual English/Spanish speech language professional, Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP.  We are excited to announce that, starting next Monday, Dr. Kester joins our impressive panel of bilingual experts in our weekly series-Ask an Expert.  Click here to send her your questions regarding speech development in bilingual children.  We invite you to visit Dr. Kester’s website, Bilinguistics, to learn more about her and her team.

Is bilingualism bad for your kids? Do bilinguals learn to talk later than monolinguals? Are bilinguals less intelligible and less intelligent than monolinguals? There are numerous myths about bilingualism. I will address three of them here.

MYTH #1

People who code-switch (mix two languages) have a language deficit and do not know either language well.

Code-switching is used for a number of reasons but does not necessarily indicate a language deficit. Sometimes bilinguals code-switch for emphasis or to express a term that has a slightly different meaning. A colleague gave the example of “pie de manzana” versus “apple pie.” Though translation equivalents, these were two different things to her. One was American apple pie, which tasted and looked very different than Bolivian pie de manzana.

In some regions, code-switching is the norm. It is important to consider a child’s language model. If they grow up in a code-switching region, they will likely code-switch. What is important to determine is if they are able to use the languages separately after being sufficiently exposed to non code-switching models.

MYTH #2

Children with language impairment should not learn more than one language at a time.

There is no evidence that being raised with two languages will confuse children with normal language development or children with language impairment. A recent study found that children with language impairment who came from bilingual backgrounds did not have more severe language problems than monolinguals with language impairment.

MYTH #3

Children learning two languages are at a cognitive disadvantage compared to monolingual children

In the past bilingualism was often viewed as a source of problems in language development. Many poorly designed studies provided support for this idea. A number of recent studies have found a wide array of cognitive benefits related to bilingualism. Executive function, which is thought to aid in one’s organizational skills, attention, and inhibitory control, has been found to be superior in bilinguals as compared to monolinguals.

Additionally, bilinguals have been found to have greater cognitive flexibility in word learning than monolinguals. Bilinguals were able to learn words with similar meanings more readily than monolinguals.

Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D.

Bilinguistics Speech and Language Services, Austin, Texas

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